Europe

Spain seeks compensation for E. coli blame

  • 3 June 2011
  • From the section Europe
Media captionSpanish producers dumped vegetables at the German consulate

Spain says it will seek damages over claims its produce was the source of an E. coli outbreak that has killed 18 people and left hundreds seriously ill.

Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he would demand reparations for the economic losses suffered.

Germany - where the outbreak is centred - had blamed Spanish cucumbers but has since accepted it was not the case.

Scientists, still searching for the source, say the outbreak features a new form of the E. coli bacterium.

The strain has been described as highly toxic.

'Horrendous'

Spanish fruit and vegetable exporters estimate they are losing 200m euros ($290m; £177m) a week in sales after Germany's initial claim that the outbreak had probably originated with Spanish cucumbers.

No evidence of this has been found and researchers are scrambling to find the source.

"We acted as we had to, and we are going to get reparations and the return of Spanish products to their rightful place," said Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero.

"I believe that any other interpretation or any effort to politicise the huge mistake made by the German authorities is totally unfair."

Sales of Spanish produce to supermarkets across Europe - not just of cucumbers, but of everything - have ground to a halt, says the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Almeria, Spain's "fruitbasket".

Tens of thousands of kilos of fresh fruit and vegetables grown in Spain are being destroyed, she adds.

"We're filling container upon container with produce to throw away," Noelia Perez, deputy financial director of Costa de Almeria, the firm initially blamed for the outbreak, said. "It's horrendous."

The European Union has urged Russia - its largest export market for vegetables - to drop its ban on the import of fresh vegetables, describing the move as totally disproportionate.

The outbreak remains centred on Germany, where there have been 1,064 cases of bloody diarrhoea and 470 cases of haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS), which affects the kidneys and can be fatal.

Seventeen people in Germany and one in Sweden have died. Cases of HUS have also been reported in Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain. Seven people in the UK have the infection, though all are thought to have contracted it in Germany.

Two people in the US, who have travelled recently to Germany, are being tested for the strain, the US Centers for Disease Control and Preventation (CDC) said.

Scientists at the Beijing Genomics Institute in China - where they are researching the strain - said the outbreak appeared to be due to a new form of the E. coli bacterium that was "highly infectious and toxic".

The World Health Organization said the variant had "never been seen in an outbreak situation before".

Speaking to Reuters news agency, Dr Robert Tauxe of the CDC said the strain was probably the most deadly yet.

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